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I personally don't use this question in spoken language but I usually see it in written language. I also frequently see that when someone asks this question, it elicits in turn the question "What do you mean?".

  • Is this an ambiguous question?
  • What are the different meanings of this question?
  • It can depend on the context but in a casual conversation, does it usually mean "What are you interested in?" or can it mean "What are you up to?" also?
  • What about sexual connotations?

I'm also not familiar with the usage in the below contexts:

From the book "The Pillars of Solomon" By Jon Land:

Man: "What the hell is going on?" he demanded...
Woman: “I don't know what you're talking about.”
Man: “If you don't, you're a bigger fool than I am. What are you into here?
Woman: “This is about the man I asked you to identify" she realized.
Man: His eyes blazed at her from driver' seat. "You're damn right it is, and somebody's going to catch hell for it!"
Man: "What are you — "
Woman: "You sent me to check out one of our own men!"


From the book "The Twelfth Insight: The Hour of Decision" By James Redfield:

I stopped and he stopped, and then I saw something familiar in his posture. It was Wil! When I got to him, he pulled me down and looked back at the Pub.
What are you into here, my friend?” he asked in his customary half-humorous tone. “I don't know,” I blurted. “I saw several people watching me inside. What are you doing here, Wil?"


From the book "Reflection: Behind the Rain" By Robert Clayton Buick:

Waehauf returned to his station and called out his cocktail order in flawless Spanish. As he waited for his drink order, he turned and continued to stare me down. I continued to stare back at him, and with willing confrontation, I calmly asked him, “What's your problem Fat Guy, and what are you into here?” His face turned into a bright red flashing light and I could hear and his feel breath increase in rapid succession.

Does it mean "What are you doing here?" or "What are you pulling here?" in these contexts? Did this question gain a new meaning in these contexts?

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FYI: "...it is replied back with "What do you mean?" question" is far from being idiomatic English. Consider instead something like "...it elicits in turn the question "What do you mean?" ". –  Erik Kowal May 23 at 3:49

5 Answers 5

The phrase in current English is generally read as "What are you interested in?"; that usage seems to have cropped up in the 1960's or 1970's to my knowledge but may well be older.

I would say the interpretation of "what are you into?" in an American English conversation as "what are you up to?" is unusual; it may be a regionalism.

Whether or not it has sexual connotations is up to the person replying and the context of the conversation. I would not generally expect the reply "bondage and discipline" as a response in a lunchtime conversation unless your workplace is somewhat unusual; normally an expression of sexual preferences in response to this question either means the conversation's already been headed that direction anyway, or that the responder wants it to be. (Unless you are very sure of your ground, such a response is not indicated. It can come across as very creepy indeed.)

The quoted example is I think meant to communicate "What have you gotten yourself into?" and is definitely not standard American usage. It may be elsewhere. Or it may just be bad writing.

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+1 for unusual workplaces. :-D –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 29 at 16:53

It has two meanings :

What are you indulging yourself in. What are you interested in.

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Just to add to the comment by Joe, as a young American, I hear "What are you into?" as

  • What are your hobbies?

  • What vices do you indulge in? (this may have sexual innuendo depending upon context)

  • What are you doing right now in your profession/career/studies. ("I'm learning philosophy.", "Oh, what are you into?", "Well, ethics, mainly." ...)

A related colloquialism is "what are you up to?" which means "what have you been doing recently?".

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The quoted text needs more background information. Who are the three people involved? Is speaker No2 (the woman) sexually attracted, obsessed or intrigued by the unidentified man?

It could well be that speaker No1 is suspicious of her continual interest, or requests related to the third character. In the end, exasperated, he insists to know the real motive behind her apparent interest in X: "What are you into here?"

If a person were to ask me "What are you into?" I might reply, "Pardon? What do you mean?" I don't think it's a typical question to ask somebody the first time, but it's fine if you are already immersed in a topic, let's say pop/contemporary music. In which case the question is perfectly understandable and I might reply with: "Alternative rock and Indie".

If the question is asked after a discussion on sex, then it's obvious that the questioner is asking about sexual preferences and positions. There's nothing ambiguous here, it all depends on the preceding topic. Context is everything.

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Your expression is wrong. it doesn't mean that "what are you doing here?"

"What are you into here?” it means, somebody asking your position.

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